Epistemic Agency and the Value of Knowledge and Belief

Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 8 (1) (2022)
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Abstract

“Credit-worthiness” accounts of the value of knowledge focus on the exercise of agency as the source of value in question. This focus is shared by an approach suggested by Sally Haslanger to the value of belief. The standard examples and counterexamples from the “value of knowledge” literature treat the relevant sort of agency in fundamentally individualistic terms. But recent work on relational autonomy recommends that we think of agency as fundamentally socially embedded. This reorientation not only disarms a standard objection to the “credit-worthiness” approach, but suggests that the putative counterexample is actually a paradigm-case of the exercise of epistemic agency for creatures like us. In so doing, it also exhibits the agency-based account of the value of knowledge and its main competitor, which focuses on the status of potential informants, as two sides of the same coin. Meanwhile, epistemic agency is an essential component of agency tout court. Effective action requires information. But perhaps the possession of information can take other forms than the having of true beliefs. Paul Churchland characterizes what’s peculiar to belief in terms of the sentential form in “that”-clauses in belief attributions. The alternatives that he envisages divorce informational content from sentence content. But for creatures like us, sentences are the basic units of communication of information. If our agency is paradigmatically exercised in socially embedded contexts, an essential part of the picture is that our information be in substantial measure communicable in sentences, i.e., that it take the form of beliefs. So the socially-oriented version of the agency-based approach to the value of knowledge also confirms Haslanger’s hunch that the value of belief can be vindicated and developed in terms of the role of belief in the exercise of agency for creatures like us.

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Aron Edidin
New College of Florida

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